First published back in November of 1984, British author Clive Barker made his name within the deeply competitive world of horror with the publication of the first three books of his macabre short stories collection ‘The Books Of Blood’ all in one collective volume. Written in his spare time, he was not expecting them to really sell at all, let alone did he predict the phenomenal public response that followed. The release exploded within the horror literature scene, hailing Barker as an exciting and imaginative newcomer. Stephen King, already deemed an undisputed master in the genre, went as far as to pronounce Clive Barker to be “the future of horror”. The first volume (containing books I-III) won both the British and World Fantasy Awards, as the public lapped up the gore soaked pages. After this initial success, Barker followed with a final three books (again in one combined volume), creating a collective masterpiece of horror. His two omnibuses were later split down and reissued into the six individual volumes, the first of which included an introduction by Ramsey Campbell. Barker was further invited to illustrate the covers of the later reissues with his dark and twisted artwork.

Instead of reviewing the original publication of the books in their three-volume omnibus format, I have instead reviewed the books separately, as six individual volumes, which is the format I first read the stories in all those many moons ago.

As such, here we have the first volume from this collection of six dark and disturbing books. Released in these separate books back in 1984 by Sphere, this first volume went under the extended title ‘Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood: Volume I’, containing the following short stories:

The Book Of Blood - 12 pages
Mary Florescu is a psychic researcher who has employed the medium Simon McNeal to investigate the unnerving presences felt in a potentially haunted house.  However, McNeal is somewhat of a con artist, and at first fakes visions of the dead appearing before him in the house's upstairs room.  However, there are spirits lurking within the walls of the building and having their unbeliever alone, they commence carving their stories across the entirety of McNeal’s flesh.  These stories are what await the reader in the following pages of the ‘Books of Blood’.  Stories written on a literal Book of Blood...

For an opener, framing device and initial introduction to the series, this short and sweet tale brings you a well-constructed and smugly haunting taste of things to come; offering the reader an eerie glimpse of the highways of the afterlife with a delicious little twist of painful bloodspill to conclude it all with.  For the purpose of framing the collection and whetting the appetite of the reader's - this short opener certainly hits all of the right notes.

The short later featured within the anthologies ‘Night Screams’ (1995) as well as appearing across the back of the thirty-two illustrated card set within the Eclipse Enterprises ‘Box Of Blood’ (1993).  The short together with the later short ‘The Book Of Blood (A Postscript): On Jerusalem Street’ was later adapted into the film ‘Book Of Blood’ (2009), that was directed by John Harrison.

The Midnight Meat Train - 25 pages
Leon Kaufman finds himself falling asleep on a New York subway train. Upon awakening, Kaufman realises that he has slept through his stop and is now at an unknown station, somewhere beyond the last stop on the line. As Kaufman tries to locate some assistance, he stumbles upon a man named Mahogany who has just murdered and butchered a number of people on board the now deserted train; their corpses strung up as if they were carcasses in an abattoir. Kaufman has no option but to kill Mahogany as an act of self-defence. But there is a lot more to this whole set-up than first meets the eye. In despatching Mahogany, Kaufman has unknowingly sentenced himself to a whole new purpose in life, with the greatest secret of the city now revealed to him...

The short was inspired and created around a sultry summer visit to New York in which Barker found himself lost on a subway at midnight. The tale is a bitter and twisted one, as we are treated to Barker's rampantly dark imagination and ruthless talent for setting down a vivid and truly disturbing tale. With the gloriously fear-ridden premise now set, the story is quickly dropped into a festering pit of gore, with extreme mutilation and blood-spill dripping from each page. The tale ends with a haunting twist conclusion, as we are treated to a hefty slab of Barker's gritty and dark imagination.

The story was adapted into the graphic novel ‘Tapping The Vein - Book 3’ (1990) where it was illustrated by Denys Cowan and Michael Davis.  The short was also included within the anthology ‘Splatterpunks’ (1990).  In 2008 the tale was later re-worked with a number of alterations into the movie of the same name that was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, with a screenplay by Jeff Buhler. 

The Yattering And Jack - 20 pages
Jack Polo, a gherkin importer, is being haunted by a relatively minor demon known as the Yattering.  Beelzebub himself has commanded the Yattering to stay within the confines of Polo's house until it succeeds in driving Polo insane.  This sentence has fallen on Polo in retaliation for an ancestor's failure to fulfil his part in a deal made with Hell.  However, unbeknown to the Yattering, Jack is well aware of the frustrated lesser demon's presence and the task it has been given by its master.  And so by remaining in a state of good cheer throughout all of the Yattering’s best efforts to terrorize him, Jack knows that he is slowly but surely winning the battle of wills.  Que Será Será…

Unusually comical for a piece of early Barker fiction, the short maintains a light-hearted temperament through the majority of the tale, with its mischievous mix of black comedy and chaotic demonic frustration.  The plot is set down from early on, balancing a simple plot with the charismatic (and purposefully over-the-top) two characters that play out their little battle of wills.  From this imaginatively formed acorn, Barker keeps up the comical frustration, until finally throwing in the delightfully-deserved finale that brings with it a sly smirk of satisfaction.  This is black comedy with a good scooping of hellish fury cutting through the layers of light relief. 

The story was later adapted by Steve Niles for the Eclipse Books graphic novel ‘The Yattering And Jack’ (1991) where it was illustrated by John Bolton.  The short also featured within the anthology ‘A Yuletide Universe’ (2003).  The story was also adapted for a television release in ‘The Tales From The Darkside - Volume 5’ (1986) which was a 20 minute piece made for TV broadcast.

Pig Blood Blues - 29 pages
Neil Redman, a former police officer, is beginning his new job at a young offenders borstal. Soon into his new role, one of the boys at the facility named Tommy Lacey informs Redman that the spirit of one of the boys that supposedly went missing named Kevin Henessey is roaming the borstal's grounds. Redman takes it on board to look deeper into this mysterious claim. However, the grotesque secret that is hidden away at the root of the borstal is a lot more horrifying than Redman would ever have believed...

Barker offers up a truly disturbing and harrowing tale of possession and brutal corruption hiding within a government run establishment. The story bleeds paranoia from the very outset; marching forever on to the horrifying reality of Henessey's disappearance and the subsequent possession. With the despicable truth to this eerie tale finally unravelling, Barker hammers the truly unforgettable twist-conclusion of the story straight at the reader, driving home a litany of horrifying finales to this monstrous tale. A truly memorable short story, set to linger in the back of the reader's mind for a long, long time afterwards.

The short was later adapted into the graphic novel ‘Tapping The Vein - Book 1’ (1989) where it was illustrated by Scott Hampton.  The short was also included within the anthology ‘Nursery Crimes’ (1993).

Sex, Death And Starshine - 36 pages
For his version of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, theatrical director Terry Calloway has cast the role of the leading lady, Viola, to the soap opera star Diane Duvall.  However, Duvall's onstage performance leaves a lot to be desired.  But Duvall has other qualities.  She will certainly bring in the punters with her on stage popularity.  And let’s not forgetting what she does for Calloway off stage.  However, during the run up to the opening night, Terry is confronted by a masked man who introduces himself as Mr Lichfield.  This somewhat theatrical man informs Terry that his wife, Constantia, would do a much better job of the lead role of Viola.  The fact that Constantia is deceased does not seem to stop her husband from pursuing the matter.  Lichfield is determined to see the role cast to its rightful owner, and so, with a kiss from his dead lips, Viola will now have a new life...in death.

Barker’s short ‘Sex, Death And Starshine’ is a morbidly imaginative and elaborate short that propels the reader into a constant state of uncertainty with the absurdly bizarre nature of the unfolding storyline.  Projecting a lingering air of mystery over Mr Lichfield and his wife Constantia from the very beginning, Barker manages to draw the reader into this unnerving tale with unspoken questions that creep alongside the storyline.  Only when the short edges towards the final curtain, does the reader fully understand the depth of this haunting tale.  Barker concludes the short with a thoroughly outrageous ending sprinkled with a hint of brilliant black comedy.

The short later featured within the anthologies ‘The Mammoth Book of Zombies’ (1993) and ‘The Living Dead’ (2008).

In The Hills, The Cities - 27 pages
During a romantic vacation in Yugoslavia, Mick and Judd find themselves driving along a dilapidated back road in the middle of what seems to be a deserted nowhere.  Their unplanned exploration takes them up in to the quiet hills in which two cities are situated; seemingly hidden away from the outside world.  Two cities that participate in an astonishing ritualistic event that takes place every ten years. For in this remote and otherwise isolated rural area, the entire populations of the two cities (Popolac and Podujevo) climb on top of each other, binding body to body with rope and harness, in order to form two colossal giants, constructed from the very people of the cities. These gigantic forms (as tall as skyscrapers and each made up from almost forty-thousand people) are set to do battle with each other on the planes of Yugoslavia. But the Podujevo giant has a weakness within its construction.  A weakness that spreads like cancer.  And when the giant comes crashing down, so will the sanity of all those around it...

For this final tale in the first volume, Barker's imagination runs riot as we are confronted with this harrowing tale bursting from the very seams with the surreal. With such an ambitiously bizarre and unique concept forming the basis of the story's plot, Barker unleashes what can only be described as an epic premise crammed into just 27 pages. When things go wrong and Podujevo finally collapses, Barker confronts the reader with a vivid barrage of human carnage on a truly colossal scale. With sanity slipping away on every page, Barker's vision of the mindboggling mayhem caused when the two cities clash is horrifyingly twisted to the very end.

The story was later adapted into the graphic novel ‘Tapping The Vein - Book 2’ (1989) where it was illustrated by John Bolton.  The short also featured within the anthologies ‘The Complete Masters Of Darkness’ (1990), ‘Foundations Of Fear’ (1992) and ‘The New Weird’ (2008) as well as being included within ‘The Essential Clive Barker’ (1999).

The book runs for a total of 149 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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